Texas Crop Weather: Watch for Armyworms in Heading Sorghum

    As grain sorghum matures, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomists and entomologists are warning to producers to diligently scout fields for armyworms. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns)

    As grain sorghum matures, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomists and entomologists are warning to producers to diligently scout fields for armyworms. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns)

    Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts warn grain sorghum producers they should now be ever more vigilant in scouting for armyworms in the coming weeks as the crop heads out.

    “The second-generation trap counts showed they were very high,” said Dr. Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Lubbock. “Compared to 2011, which was considered a bad year, they were even higher in July.”

    Trostle noted that Dr. Pat Porter, AgriLife Extension entomologist at Lubbock, has continued to report large numbers of both armyworm moths and larvae throughout the region. But the situation requires even more vigilance in late August as sorghum heads mature.

    “The worm damage in the whorl is mostly a cosmetic thing as long as they don’t go down into the head,” he said. “Now we have a lot of headed sorghum in the South Plains and West Texas.”

    The whorl refers to a set of leaves growing from the stem of the plant in a circular pattern, Trostle explained. In sorghum, the seed head does not develop until the latter boot stage, then flowering.

    “Once sorghum heads out, the worms are going to go there and feed on the head, and that’s where the real economic damage occurs,” he said. “Normally, we recommend scouting once a week, but with the counts so high, I’d suggest farmers scout more often, perhaps every five days.”

    Though much dryland grain sorghum in the High Plains is currently drought-stressed, there’s still the potential for some very good yields, Trostle noted. Another rain in the next week or two would really make a difference.

    This is because grain sorghum is considerably more drought-tolerant than comparable crops such as corn, he said. One of the moisture-critical stages of corn or sorghum is during the flower/pollination period.

    “For a corn crop, that is uniform across the field, you may have about three days for conditions to be right for good pollination,” Trostle explained. “With grain sorghum, you’re going to have a wider window, because it will start to flower at the tip of the head. A small sorghum head, say a 5-inch head, may take five days to flower from top to bottom. If it’s a large sorghum head, like 9 inches, it may take seven days to flower from top to bottom. That’s one of the things that insulates sorghum a little bit from the worst, dreadfully hot days when you have flowering going on. Because, even if it is hot enough to bite the head a little bit, they’re not going to be completely struck down.”

    AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

    Central: Crops under irrigation looked good. In some areas, pastures were showing signs of moisture stress as triple-digit temperatures and dry conditions continued. However, many areas were still in great shape. The corn harvest neared completion, however there were issues of grain storage shortages. This has slowed some harvesting, as have sugarcane aphid issues. Tanks and creeks were full, and forages were plentiful, which kept livestock in good condition. Hay harvesting stopped, and pecans were beginning to drop. If hay meadows would receive another rain, they could produce one final cutting.

    Coastal Bend: Early yield reports for both soybeans and cotton were above average. Some cotton fields produced 3.5 bales per acre, and soybeans produced more than 50 bushels per acre. Rice yields were about average, with some fields producing more than 8,500 pounds per acre. Hay making continued at a steady pace. Burn bans were enacted in some counties due to very dry conditions and high winds. Rangeland conditions declined after a week of near 100-degree temperatures and no rain. Cattle prices remained high, but inventories low. Water levels of creeks and ponds were rapidly dropping.

    East: Most of the region was hot and dry, with only Henderson and Jasper counties receiving spotty showers. Harrison and Polk counties reported subsoil moisture as short, while all other counties reported it as mostly adequate. Forage growth slowed, with quality dropping as grasses matured. Trinity County reported the early rains caused an abundance of pasture grass. Armyworm infestations decreased, but grasshoppers continued to be a problem. Fruit and vegetable production slowed. Corn was being harvested, with outstanding yields predicted. Lake and pond levels were good. Cattle remained in good condition. Some producers in Anderson County began to supplement cattle with protein. Feral hogs were active.

    Far West: Hot and muggy weather continued, with some scattered showers. The western side of Ward County got 1 inch of rain. Subsoil and topsoil moisture was short to very short, with the exception of Reagan and Hudspeth counties, which reported adequate to short. All corn was in good to excellent condition. Cotton was in fair to good condition, with all of the crop setting bolls and much of it squaring. Part of the Upton County grain sorghum crop was coloring and heading. Pasture and rangeland remained in poor to very poor condition.

    North: Most of the region reported short to adequate topsoil moisture. From 0.2 to 0.5 inch of rain fell across the region. However, the region generally remained hot and dry, with highs in the upper 90s to 100s. The corn and sorghum harvests were ongoing, with average to slightly above average yields reported. Growth of summer pastures slowed because of dry weather. Hay fields were wilting from the heat, but harvesting still continued in a few counties. Overall, cattle were in good condition. Armyworms and grasshoppers continued to be a problem. Sugarcane aphids attacked sorghum-Sudan hay. Feral hogs were still a threat.

    Panhandle: The region remained hot and dry, with temperatures near average for the week. Some moisture was received near the weekend in the north and western part of the district, from a trace to 2 inches. Soil moisture was rated mostly short to adequate. Cotton was catching up on needed heat units in some areas; still lagging behind in others. Irrigators were actively watering. Weeds continued to be a problem. Collingsworth County cotton was stressed. Peanuts looked promising. In Deaf Smith County, producers were busy irrigating and playing catch up on weed control. Corn was progressing well, with many fields finishing up. Late-planted corn was just beginning to tassel and pollinate. Grain sorghum was doing well with most fields in the midst of blooming or finished. Haying and the start of silage harvest began, with choppers on the move, and silage trucks rushing down the county roads. All Randall County crops, as w ell as rangeland and pastures, were beginning to suffer from lack of moisture. Producers in Dallam and Hartley counties were planting winter wheat. Some producers were spraying for southwestern corn borer. Haygrazer and alfalfa were being baled. The potato harvest was ongoing. Cattle were in good condition.

    Rolling Plains: A few areas of the region received showers with amounts measuring up to 1 inch. However, most of the region remained very hot and dry with winds contributing to lowering soil moisture. Rangeland was deteriorating quickly. Incidences of wildfire caused by lightning were increasing. Livestock remained in generally good to excellent condition. Alfalfa growers were cutting fields. Cotton was generally in fair to good shape and beginning to flower out the top, a sign its (it’s) about finished growing. Pecan producers who had irrigation capacity were watering in order to save a promising crop. There were reports of sugarcane aphid infestations in some sorghum fields. Farmers were preparing fields for planting winter pasture crops where soil moisture allowed. Stock tanks and lake levels remained low.

    South: The region had extremely hot temperatures, well into the triple-digits, and no rain. Conditions were favorable for harvesting but not for soil moisture. Rangeland and pastures were declining. In the northern part of the region, irrigation was active on peanuts and hay. Corn harvesting was completed, sorghum harvesting continued, cotton was in the boll-opening stage, and peanuts were setting pods. Forage availability remained very limited in some areas. Stock-tank water levels were rapidly dropping as a result of heat and high evaporation rates. In the eastern part of the region, soil moisture was short to very short. Wind combined with the extremely hot temperatures was drying out forages at an alarming rate. In Jim Hogg County, producers were providing corn and hay to livestock and wildlife to make up for the lack of nutritional range and pastureland forages. In the western part of the region, some areas received trace amounts of rain with no effect on soil moisture. Producers were preparing fields for fall planting and baling coastal Bermuda grass hay. Ranchers were culling herds very lightly and/or restocking. Supplemental feeding was light due to very moderate stocking rates in some areas but had to be increased in others as pastures declined. Stock-tank water levels continued to drop due to very high evaporation rates. Corn and sorghum were being harvested, and most cotton was at the drying stage. Pecan growers were irrigating orchards as the crop was at its critical nut-development stage. In the southern part of the region, cotton harvesting was very active. Producers were preparing fields for fall planting in Starr County. In Willacy County, sorghum harvesting continued, and cotton harvesting was nearly completed. Soil moisture conditions were short to very short, and range and pasture conditions were fair but were declining due to temperatures in the 100s and high winds.

    South Plains: The area was mostly extremely hot and dry. Some producers welcomed the hot weather because it helped cotton to catch up on heat units. They were concerned the cotton may not have enough time to finish if there is an early freeze. Borden and Scurry counties reported from 0.2 inch to 2 inches of rain. Lubbock and Lynn counties had some very isolated showers that didn’t have much impact on crops. Weeds continued to be a concern for producers in most crops. Peanuts were generally doing well and needed the warm temperatures to continue to finish out well. Grain sorghum was making good progress where rains or irrigation was received. The corn harvest was slowly starting in Hockley County. Lubbock County reported dryland cotton and sorghum were showing signs of drought stress, and irrigated fields were variable in terms of yield potential. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition but also would definitely benefit from additional moisture.

    Southeast: The region was generally hot and humid, with some areas reporting a heat index in the 100s. Soil moisture throughout the region varied widely, mostly in the adequate to short range, with Galveston County reporting 100 percent very short, and Hardin County 100 percent surplus. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, from good to excellent, with good ratings being the most common. Brazoria County continued to be very dry. Hay continues continued to be harvested, but re-growth is was slow due to the lack of moisture. Corn producers were reporting some very good yields, 150 bushels per acre and above. Livestock were in fair to good condition. In Chambers County, the rice harvest was ongoing. Much of Montgomery County received 2 to 3 inches of rain. Pastures responded well and the harvesting of hay continued. Scattered rainfall was received across the county which helped the dry conditions. Excess hay was being s old. In Brazos County, dryland corn yields were higher than anticipated. Scattered showers across the county provided moisture to pastures and hay fields.

    Southwest: The eastern half of the district remained hot and dry, with topsoil and subsoil moisture decreasing. The central corridor of counties received spotty rains. The western half of the District received continued and significant rains. The grain sorghum harvest was wrapping up with average yields reported. The corn harvest was ongoing, with fair to poor yields. Pastures and forages were declining in the eastern parts of the district. Hay pastures were no longer growing, and haygrazer fields will need another rain in order to get a second cutting. Livestock and pastures remained in fair condition in the western counties. In the eastern half of the district, livestock producers began supplemental feeding.

    West Central: Extremely hot and dry weather continued, and soil moisture further declined. Preparations for wheat planting, including pre-application of fertilizers, continued. Cutting and baling hay continued in areas that received rain. Most hay fields will need rain soon to produce another cutting. The corn harvest was underway, with fair yields being reported. Sunflowers and early planted grain sorghum were being harvested. Forage crops were showing drought stress. Cotton was progressing very well, with boll set in full swing. Most rangeland and pastures looked good due to recent rains. Pecan conditions varied depending upon location. Hunting season is right around the corner, and wildlife was in much better condition than this time last year.

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